If you read my post, Don’t Quit!, you know that I left the ministry for 13-years. Much of that time I spent trying to get back into the pastorate, and that was hard. But the really hard part was finding a church where we could worship and fellowship. So much of a pastor’s life is tied up with the congregation. Church members are your congregants, but they are also your friends and your social circle. When you lose your church, you lose your whole social network.
That’s what happened to us when I left the pastorate. Lonely and looking for a new church home, our experiences visiting other churches were usually disappointing. When we visited a new church and the people discovered I was a “former pastor,” they either asked —
- 1) “what happened?” or
- 2) “could you teach Sunday School next week?”
We were still getting over the “what happened” part and really didn’t want to talk about it. We certainly didn’t want to jump into leading a group right away. We were Baptist, but going to Baptist churches didn’t seem to be working for us.
A neighbor who cared
We tried churches of other denominations. We went to one that we thought we liked until we attended a congregational business meeting where they argued with each other, criticized the pastor, and made us very uncomfortable, so we quit going there. Frankly, we spent a lot of Sunday mornings at the local bookstore, drinking coffee and reading the paper. A much more restful experience than going to some churches. But deep inside the longing for fellowship and worship still called to us. We looked for a church home, joined one church, but then moved out of that neighborhood and lost touch.
Several months went by. Debbie had left work early one afternoon, and was home planting flowers around our mailbox. We had recently moved to a new neighborhood and were still settling in. A woman came walking by on her afternoon stroll and stopped to chat. She asked Debbie about her flowers and then said, “Do you go to church?” Debbie replied that we hadn’t found a church yet. Katherine said, “Well, I go to Belmont United Methodist Church. It’s a wonderful church and on Wednesday night we have dinner together. We’d love for you to join us some time.” Katherine then said her good-byes and walked on down the street.
One more time and we’re home
I wish I could tell you that the next Sunday Debbie and I rushed to Belmont, but we didn’t for several months. Finally, after a lot of discussion the Sunday came when we were ready to try church one more time. We got up that Sunday morning, dressed for worship, and drove to the corner of 21st and Acklen where the church stands. We parked at the front in a “Guest Parking” space, got out of the car and started up the steps. Before we could get all the way up to the door, Keith met us, introduced himself and opened the door for us.
Inside as we were finding a seat, Hugh came over and introduced himself, welcoming us to Belmont. He invited us to a couples’ Sunday School class the next week and with a wave pointed out several folks we would meet in the class. As we sat quietly, the organ began to play, and we knew we were home. Baptists in a Methodist church, but we were home. Home where people loved their church and each other. Home where worship called to the ache within our hearts. Home where we could be still and know that God was still God.
The journey continues
We never visited another church, and we eventually joined Belmont. We both found places of service hosting the new members class and working with a group called Fellowship Friends — a group that helped incorporate newcomers into the life of the church.
We were members at Belmont for about two years. John Collett, the pastor, knew our story and recommended me for a small rural United Methodist church near Pulaski, Tennessee. On the second Sunday in November, 2003, I stood and for the first time in 13-years preached to “my” congregation as their newly-appointed pastor. Then in June, 2004, Chatham Baptist Church called me to become their pastor.
All of this happened because Katherine invited us to church. A simple invitation from a neighbor, but for us it was an invitation to joy.